Housing and climate action

One of the workshop streams at the Scot.E3 conference in November was devoted to housing. This report is from Mike Downham who was one of the facilitators of the discussion.  

  1. Housing in Scotland is a disgrace – from the Muirhead tower blocks to new-build. A participant from Hungary, who has been in Glasgow for a year or so and has had extreme difficulties in finding somewhere to live and which is affordable to heat, said that Scotland’s housing compares very badly with Hungary’s, which at least has thick walls. “You’ve got to do something about it”.
  2. Student housing. The Universities are supplying student housing which is unaffordable except for wealthy students, mostly from the Far East, and make it difficult for most students to find less expensive accommodation. There has been a lot of public criticism about students having such high quality housing, while many citizens are homeless. But the reality is that the majority of students have huge difficulties in finding housing they can afford to rent and heat. It’s not unusual for them to end up on someone else’s sofa.
  3. Commodification of housing since 1980 is at the root of the housing crisis in Scotland. Housing policy has been primarily aimed at growing the national economy, instead of housing being recognised as a human right.
  4. What we can do together towards a just transition in Scotland’s Housing:
  • Demand that Councils bring building standards up to passive-house specifications and replace building control jobs lost in the name of austerity, without which new housing can’t be adequately inspected. These changes are perfectly feasible for Councils.
  • Put pressure on the Scottish Government to ensure that the new Scottish Investment Bank will direct enough funding to build the new houses needed (this is urgent – the Scottish Investment Bank Bill is going through parliament now).
  • Put pressure on Pension Funds to invest in housing.
  • Support grass-roots protest as demonstrated by Living Rent’s support for Muirhouse tenants, which started with door-knocking to get all tenants’ views.
  • Suggest to XR that they target some of their direct action on grass-roots projects such as Muirhouse
  • Suggest that grass-roots projects such as Muirhouse deliver their demands to the COP 26 – to both the formal and the alternative meetings.
  • Keep in our sites the eventual objective of a National Housing Company through which communities will choose the type of housing, local facilities and green species they need
  1. Climate is just one part of the wider argument – so the challenge for the Climate Movement is to build links with all other movements concerned with social injustice.
  2. “We need to close this down” – just as we would have no hesitation in doing if there was a proposal to build an asbestos factory at the end of our street. Though this was said in respect of the climate polluters, the fact that it was said in a discussion on Housing, Health and Fuel Poverty suggests that it should be our approach to all forms of social and planetary injustice.

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Image (Construction of the Passive House) CC BY SA 2.0 from Sustainable Sanitation Alliance  

 

Energy from Waste

On of the issues that came up in discussion at the recent Scot.E3 conference was ‘Energy from Waste’.  There is large-scale investment in this technology taking place across the UK.  We agreed to produce a briefing on the topic.  What follows is the text of the first draft of the briefing.  We are also developing further resources that will be added to the Resources page on this site.  We’d welcome comments on the text and ideas for useful resources that we could link to.

There are a large number of Energy from Waste (EFW) projects planned across the UK.  By the end of 2017 there were nearly 120 EFW proposals at various planning stages. Sixteen of these are in Scotland. In this briefing we take a critical look at Energy from Waste and ask whether it has a place in a strategy for a zero carbon Scotland.

Energy from Waste Projects

At first sight, the term ‘Energy from Waste’ appears to be all things green. It suggests a new and rational way of ‘treating’ the ever-growing mountains of waste that are an inevitable by-product of our throwaway society.  It invites the idea of a ‘green energy’ that has been derived from what would otherwise be a possibly harmful and long-term environmental problem. When the alternatives proposed are either a long-term toxic and smelly and unsightly landfill problem or a health-threatening incineration route, then EFW appears to be a sensible choice.

Behind the EFW hype, which many UK local authorities have accepted, there is a fog of confusion regarding the most optimal waste management solutions; whether they be recycling or minimising the production of waste at source – both options are ruled out by market driven/low cost and value-for-money economics.

Landfill

Since 1945 the volume of disposable waste per household in the UK has multiplied threefold. Over the years, the local authorities have traditionally chosen landfill disposal as the preferred waste ‘treatment’ route.  However, landfill, demands considerable land acreage and depth and entails significant public health risks as well as potentially long-term hazards for the environment. Aside from smell and vermin nuisance, landfill sites- even the best managed ones- constitute over time- a high risk of biological and toxin leaching into surface soils and ground-waters.  Methane from decomposition also adds to greenhouse gas emissions.

For all of these reasons, waste management authorities have either been incentivised away from landfill by grants for recycling- or more often – ‘disincentivised’ in the way of increasingly punitive landfill taxes. First introduced in the 1970’s, landfill taxes have been subsequently reinforced by EU directive-and as alternative waste ‘treatment’ technologies have fallen in capital cost, so landfill taxes have risen.

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Landfill tax per tonne

2010      £63.00

2018      £88.95

2019-20 £94.15

Tax policies make EFW-type waste treatment strategies appear attractive- particularly because in exchange for a penalty for handling waste, there is an income from generating electricity.

EFW technologies

There are a number of EFW technologies on offer but all share the same objective of converting solid (or in some cases, liquid/sludge) waste into energy for the production of electricity.

Typically, an EFW plant is based on an incinerator chamber into which is fed solid waste.  The upper walls of the chamber comprise water-filled tubes in which super-heated steam is produced for a steam turbine that in turn produces electricity.

Steam is also captured from the waste feed system. If the plant is fitted with what is called a ‘back-pressure’ steam turbine, then high-pressure hot water can be distributed to local industrial and residential heating networks in what is called a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system.

However, as such plant is typically fed unsorted, or semi-sorted waste with a low calorific value, the combustion process will be ‘boosted’ with an additional combustion element in the form of natural gas or diesel oil. Less typical EFW technologies with little application to date, are the various gasification processed that involve the digestion of biological waste- usually food or agricultural wastes which are then converted into a ‘bio-gas’ which via a gas turbine is converted into a higher electricity output. In some processes, the waste is heat-treated anaerobically – i.e. in low oxygen conditions- (pyrolysis) to produce a synthetic ‘natural’ gas.

All EFW systems discharge exhaust gases. The principal emission is carbon dioxide but there are also emissions of nitrogen dioxide.  Quenching water can contain uncombusted toxins and  solid wastes in the form of light ash or clinker have to be disposed of safely.

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Image M J Richardson, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5668478

Renewable energy?

EFW systems add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through the process itself and also through large-scale transport of waste to the incinerators (mostly by road).  They are a response to the perceived problem of landfill rather than tackling systems that produce unrecyclable waste.  To operate efficiently EFW plants require a continuing supply of waste at or around current levels.  Scotland produces around 1.6 million tonnes of combustible municipal waste per year, if current plans come to fruition this means and awful lot of capacity chasing a very finite amount of waste. Local authorities could be tied in to contracts to supply waste for the next thirty or forty years.   This could pose a real threat to the commitment to recycle plastics and other recoverable materials out of the waste treatment stream. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency notes that EFW is not a renewable energy source but claims that because it can be substituted for fossil fuel electricity production it forms an important part of the Scottish Strategy for sustainable energy!

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Alternative Strategy needed

Energy from Waste is not green and not sustainable.  It undermines attempts to reuse and recycle and it has a significant carbon footprint through transport of waste to centralised sites and through the greenhouse emissions from the burning of waste.

Investment in Energy from waste should be reallocated to genuinely sustainable technologies aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, which also provide opportunities for jobs in construction and better opportunities for long-term employment.

Further reading

For further information on Energy from Waste go to www.scote3.wordpress.com and click on the Resources tab in the menu.  This briefing is one in a series produced by Scot.E3.

How can public ownership in Offshore Wind deliver good jobs for the climate transition?

Thanks to Anna Markova from Transition Economics for permission to share this video which she presented at the STUC Energy conference – ‘Building Worker Power in the context of the climate crisis’ on 20th November.  The video looks specifically at offshore wind but raises issues around public ownership and is well worth watching in full.

 

 

 

 

Harland and Wolff: occupying for nationalisation, jobs and the climate

As workers at Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard fight to save their jobs, demanding nationalisation as the employer goes into administration, Brian Parkin from ScotE3 reports on the response from the UK Construction Rank and File group, argues for solidarity and highlights links with action to tackle the climate emergency.  This article was first published on http://www.rs21.org.uk

The mighty shipyard of Harland and Wolff, whose enormous cranes, Samson and Goliath, dominate the Belfast skyline, is now facing the final phase of closure. Most famed for being the shipyard that built the ill-fated Titanic, these yards and their local supply companies employed up to 30,000 workers at their peak. Now, after repeated capacity and job-sheddings, only 121 workers remain.

The remaining workers have been given redundancy notices, but have said no to the supposed inevitability of market forces and the whims of hedge-fund capital. In a bid to save their jobs, they have mounted a workplace occupation. These men and women of the Unite and GMB unions are not looking back to the days of mighty ocean liners and battleships. Instead, they have evaluated the productive assets of the yards and have seen them as part of the vital industrial capacity that can begin to turn the tide in the battle against climate change. They have combined their technical skills with their knowledge of the Harland and Wolff production potential with a vision of how they can fabricate the structures and internals of wave, wind and tidal units that can harness the vast renewable resources that can provide clean, affordable and abundant energy.

All too aware of empty promises and crocodile tears of politicians and would-be investors, the workforce have played their ultimate hand: they have occupied and taken over the means of production in order to prevent asset strippers and bailiffs moving in and destroying further the productive potential of their sole means of production – and with it the hope of clean energy technologies so badly needed as climate change accelerates.

But these workers cannot fight alone. So far their unions have promised official support. But that support will be conditional – until a prospective bidder comes along with the any rescue bid inevitably demanding further flexibility and productivity promises of the workforce. Which is why the example of the UK Construction Rank and File in promising solidarity is so important. And now, within weeks of the global climate strikes and protests on 20 September, the climate change movement has a concrete example to put workers’ action centre stage.

Harland and Wolff and an emerging campaign of former BiFab workers in Fife are at last bringing together the issues of jobs worth having within a campaign for a planet capable of being saved.

The UK Construction Rank and File passed the following motion at its annual general meeting on Saturday 3 August:

  1. The Annual General Meeting of the UK Construction workers rank and File note the heroic factory occupation of the Harland and Wolff plant in Belfast in their bid to save jobs.
  2. We further note their demand that the present plant and jobs therein be turned over to the production of renewable energy technologies that will not only meet the growing demand for clean renewable sources of energy, but will also make a vital contribution to the fight against impending and potentially catastrophic climate change.
  3. In their present struggle the H&W workers are showing the way by which in the fight for jobs, the conversion of employment and means of production can be redeployed into both socially and environmentally dedicated ends.
  4. We commend the leadership on Unite for the official support that they are extending to the H&W occupation and call upon the wider labour movement to take up the fight for jobs, communities and the energy needs and environmental responsibilities of future generations.
  5. Furthermore, we urge all workers to support next month’s climate strikes and protests, both as a show of solidarity with H&W, but as a sign of the commitment to the working class’s vital role in the fight against climate change and our planets environment and eco-systems.

Save-Our-Shipyard-e1565021353605-696x431Photo: Unite construction branch on twitter

Fife – Ready for Renewal

EDF renewables have the contract for the new Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm. Although the turbines will be located around 15.5 km off the Fife coast the company plans to source much of the infrastructure for the site from South East Asia.

The project aims to generate 450MW of renewable energy (enough to power all of Edinburgh) – this makes the decision to manufacture the jackets that the turbines rest on in the far east and then ship them around the world all the more ludicrous. It will create huge additional carbon emissions – the STUC reckons this would be the equivalent of putting 35,000 additional petrol or diesel cars on the road.

Simply on the basis of its carbon footprint, the argument for dropping the EDF plan and building the jackets at the BiFab yards in Fife is incontestable. But in the context of a climate emergency it also raises other fundamental issues about how Scotland plays its part in the transition to a zero carbon economy. Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland puts the case very well:

We urgently need to build the clean energy economy in Scotland to do our fair share of tackling the climate emergency. But the new clean economy must be created in a way that ensures the benefits and costs are shared fairly, both internationally and here in Scotland.

Crucially, it also means losing the opportunity to create decent manufacturing work in Fife, that could help kick start the badly need Just Transition for workers and communities currently dependent on high carbon industries here in Scotland.

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The skills of the BiFab workers are critical to a Just Transition. Fundamentally this is about social justice and about the contribution that Scotland can make to the global response to the climate crisis. We have abundant resources for sustainable energy production and workers with the skills required to build the new sustainable economy. However, if we are serious about dealing with a climate emergency it is essential to develop policy and institutions that enable public control and accountability.

The STUC together with Unite the Union and the GMB have launched a campaign, ‘Fife – ready for renewal’ to bring the work to Fife. And Nicola Sturgeon is backing appeals to EDF to move production to the BiFab yards. This is really welcome.  But taking the climate emergency seriously surely requires going beyond call to the ‘social conscience’ of the big energy companies. There is a pressing need to develop a publicly owned energy company. Such a company could invest in production through new offshore wind, wave and tidal, take control of the grid and update it with new subsea connections and a smart distribution system and end the dependency on the market.

There is a public meeting in Buckhaven on June 20th to build support for the campaign – details on Facebook.

Energy from Waste

The UK’s Green Investment Bank had a short and inglorious history; founded in 2012 it was privatised in 2017.  The private company is now called the Green Investment Group – a wholly owned financial arm of the Australian development company Macquarie. The company also owns the formerly US owned incineration company Wheelabrator.  The group is playing a role in energy from waste schemes.  In Scotland the Green Investment GroupIG has taken an equity risk of 50% capital in the Earl’s Gate EfW CHP project at Grangemouth. Wheelabrator incineration is at the heart of the project.  Earl’s Gate boasts the capacity to ‘treat’ more than 20% of Scotland’s municipal waste.  Local authorities are being drawn into long-term and dubious ‘green’ capital projects with virtually no public debate.

The evolution of the Green Investment Bank is a salutary lesson in what happens when policy initiatives are based on market ideology.

geograph-5887688-by-Derek-HarperImage by Derek Harper CC BY SA 2.0 https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5887688

Solidarity with shipyard workers in North Devon

Reposted from REEL News

Huge demonstration in Bideford, North Devon this weekend, to stop the only merchant shipyard in the country from closing. All 200 workers are facing redundancy a few days before Christmas, and the knock-on effect for the local economy will be huge. And this shows the lunacy of modern capitalism – the Government urgently needs non-military ships built for the Royal Navy, but instead of giving the work to the highly skilled workforce at Appledore shipyard and keeping the shipyard open, they’re putting it internationally to competitive tender to get the lowest price.

On top of that, the Tories know they need to take drastic steps to move to renewable energy to stop catastrophic climate change – so why aren’t they immediately giving Appledore a contract to build all the offshore wind turbines and other infrastructure we’re going to desperately need, and instead pushing ahead with a dangerous fracking operation that is already causing tremors and will push up our carbon emissions?

This is also one of the few places left with a proper apprenticeship scheme, training up the highly skilled workers of the future – but the Tories and engineering multinational Babcock International want to just chuck all this in the bin in their race to the bottom.
This is a major dispute kicking off with national importance – get behind the Appledore workers and demand the shipyard stays open. You can start by signing the petition at https://www.change.org/p/save-appledore-shipyard before they and it in to Parliament tomorrow.

 

What kind of expertise is needed for low energy construction?

Thanks to Craig from the PCS union’s Green Forum for highlighting this paper.  It looks at the skills that are required for a serious shift to low energy construction.  It argues that a new curriculum is required for vocational training and that a low carbon future for construction requires a radical transition pathway rather than market-based solutions.  You can read or download the paper here.